The Huskies thrived after Abdul Gaddy was injured and Isaiah Thomas first took over at point guard. Now Washington is struggling entering Thursday's home game against Cal.
Back when Isaiah Thomas moved to point guard and played like a Pac-10 MVP candidate during a scintillating six-game stretch, people seemed to forget about Abdul Gaddy.
The Huskies thrived under the new leadership of Thomas, who replaced Gaddy at point after Gaddy suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Washington won five of six games during the stretch. The offense never looked more explosive — racking up 103 points against Oregon State and 92 at California in a 21-point victory on Jan. 16.
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“I thought initially when we first played them they were better without him,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said of Gaddy. “Now to say that Isaiah had 27 points and 13 assists against us and that was the first time they put him at the point and just let him go.
“It’s hard for me to say they weren’t as good because they were clearly better and he dominated the game.”
In the past three games, all UW defeats, Thomas has been less dominating and, at times, dreadful.
The junior missed 10 of 13 shots and committed seven turnovers in a defeat at Washington State. Against Oregon State, Thomas finished with seven turnovers and nine points on 2-for-11 shooting.
Making matters worse for the Huskies, senior backup point guard Venoy Overton is mired in a seasonlong slump. He has yet to regain the form that made him one of the most feared perimeter defenders in the nation last season.
In light of the backcourt struggles, Gaddy’s absence becomes more noticeable.
It’s one of many problems Washington (15-7, 7-4 in Pac-10) must solve before Thursday’s 6 p.m. game against Cal (13-10, 6-5) at Edmundson Pavilion.
Thomas admits the Huskies miss their former floor general, who started 41 straight games as a freshman and sophomore before tearing knee ligaments Jan. 3 in practice.
“If we were winning, you guys wouldn’t think we were missing him,” Thomas said. “That’s what it comes down to: We miss him.
“Even if we’d won every game, we still miss him. He’s a big part of our team.”
Without Gaddy, Thomas carries the offense on his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame.
Thomas and the Huskies flourished early before opponents adjusted. Lately teams have used a densely packed 2-3 zone that’s denied his drives and negated UW’s pick-and-roll offense.
“Maybe the depth issue has started to rise up,” Montgomery said. “Maybe people have scouted now and see what he does, where we really didn’t have that opportunity.
“It always hurts to lose a really good player.”
Even with just nine healthy scholarship players on the roster, coach Lorenzo Romar contends depth hasn’t been an issue in UW’s three-game losing streak.
Yet when redshirt freshman C.J. Wilcox missed the Washington State game with a concussion, the Huskies were limited in the backcourt. Thomas played 37 minutes, and junior Scott Suggs logged a career-high 35.
When Overton is unable to provide a spark off the bench and commits more turnovers (eight) than assists (three), as he did in the past three games, the Huskies miss Gaddy’s calming influence.
“When things were going south offensively and we weren’t taking good shots, he was kind of there to settle you down a little bit,” Romar said. “So, yeah, you miss that part.”
Romar believes Washington wings Justin Holiday, Terrence Ross, Suggs and Wilcox need to be more active offensively to help Thomas.
He also said Overton displayed signs of breaking out of his slump last Saturday during the 81-76 loss at Oregon.
“We don’t go to the (NCAA) tournament without Venoy last year,” Romar said. “He’s proven himself and I think when guys have proven themselves they earned the right to go out there and be able to play.
“We believe in him. We know that he’s capable of doing it.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org